Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash
Author: Gavin Sher
My First Date with Ayahuasca
I’ve always felt a deep calling to mystical experience and I’ve always loved to grow and these two urges led me quite naturally toward entheogens, which I have been working with for about twenty years now.
It was the magic of the mushrooms that first called me. When I first experienced them, I immediately recognized that they were giving me something I had been searching for. I tasted the numinous and it changed me.
Thereafter, I continued to take mushrooms whenever I could find them, mostly alone in my room, where I felt safe and could really take in the insights that would arrive as my perspective expanded. With experience, I discovered that the expansion in my perspective was permanent and I was hooked.
The benefits were huge and I experienced no negative consequences, so I ingested mushrooms a lot in my twenties and even more in my early thirties.
Yet, over time, I felt a call to explore more widely. There was no doubt that the fungi were excellent aids to my mental acuity and creative imagination, but there were mystical experiences that, in my youth, I craved and the mushrooms were not providing me with the particular experiences I yearned for.
So, when I first heard of Ayahuasca and learned of a good shaman I could experience it with, I was super-keen to meet the vine of the dead. This was back before the days when Ayahuasca became widely known and popular and, for a number of reasons, it took another two years before I walked through that door.
In the interim, I had done lots of research on the medicine and found many accounts of the experiences it offered. You know the sort, where someone claims ayahuasca took them to another world, or brought them face to face with their ancestors, or connected them with the angels, or their dead puppy and so forth.
Well, that all appealed to me. I was ready for anything; the wilder the better. Beam me up, please.
Still, I wasn’t a spiritual tourist. The mystical was a part of my life. I had a deep calling. I did my work. Whatever insights I gleaned from my experiences with mushrooms, or from my own self-reflection, I assimilated into myself. I constantly worked on my shadows and did my best to polish the mirror of my being till it shined. I was an experienced meditator and every moment of my day was a practice in mindfulness.
I felt ready because I fully believed, and still do, that when one takes a plant medicine and opens the gates into the unconscious one meets oneself, just as we do in every moment of our lives.
For that reason, I was super excited to work with the Ayahuasca. I was just oh so curious to know what gates may open and where I may find myself. The mushrooms had always been so generous with me, what would this new being bring?
Beyond the medicine, this was also to be my first experience of shamanic ceremony. I had always treated mushrooms as sacred, but I had never been in sacred ceremony before. I was sure there would be lots to learn and it all appealed immensely to my imagination.
The ceremony was held in Malmsbury, a small farming town about two hours from Cape Town, where I lived. The shaman, Jacques, was a South African who lived in Brazil and had trained for many years and then been initiated in the Shipibo tradition. He genuinely was very good and, not yet knowing how important it was to have someone who holds a good space, I was fortunate to have found him.
When the ceremony finally began, I had goose bumps. I could barely contain my excitement. I drank the first cup and was semi-surprised by the terrible taste, then I lay down and waited.
Then I waited.
And then I waited some more.
Hours passed, but nothing happened, nothing at all. No visions. No insights. Not even any purging. Nothing. I was completely sober.
I drank the second cup, but still nothing.
Patience had never been my strong point and we were now deep into the ceremony. The icaros were very beautiful, but I was annoyed and the farm flies were getting to me.
Then Jacques offered a third and final cup.
I requested a big one, drank it all down and went back to my spot and then… nothing.
By the time Jacques announced the ceremony would soon be drawing to a close I had given up on the plant. I couldn’t believe all the hype. What a waste of time and money. I would stick with the mushrooms. It was cheaper and clearly more effective.
Then, finally, something did happen.
In my mind’s eye, I saw myself. Somehow I knew it was me. It wasn’t the self of this life, but in an intuitive flash I knew it was still me, sitting alone in an ancient desert surrounded by red sand and rock, in a time quantumly connected to my own.
I was a shaman then and I could feel that self clearly, as he reached through space-time and his head pushed into and then through my own and he purged for me.
I instinctively grabbed my bucket, but all that came out was vibration, pulsing waves of vibration and, amidst their force, something inside of me broke loose and my being shifted, just a little bit and then that was that.
The ceremony was about six hours long and my experience lasted mere moments, less than a minute, but it was enough to entice me to return.
I am very glad I did.
Over time Mama Aya taught me a great deal, including patience and, eventually, humility. She also helped me to shift various blockages in my body and facilitated some important changes in my life.
In a later session, I laughed for long minutes when she took me back to that first ceremony and she conveyed that I had arrived like a young man arriving for a first date, expecting a woman to just fall head over heals with my awesomeness. Really. That was the description that came to me and, like any woman, she wasn’t going to reveal all her secrets just because I happened to rock up. I had to earn that privilege.
In that moment I understood one important truth about working with plants, which has been constantly reaffirmed to me ever since.
The plants are ancient beings who hold many secrets and, potentially, many gifts, but decades of experience with Aya, Wachuma, Peyote, Iboga, and others has shown me that working with plants is, as with all things, a matter of relationship.
You’ll never get to know all that they are on a first date. If you really want to know them, you have to give that relationship time and energy and take it deeper, but that’s only going to happen if they allow it.
This generally depends on how you relate to them, but perhaps even more importantly it depends on how you relate to yourself.
If you treat them with respect, take the lessons that come whole-heartedly and do your own work outside the ceremonies, then real magic is possible, magic that can permanently change you and your life.
I have been gifted to experience that, but your experience will always depend on you. Make of it what you will.
It is worth noting, however, that it’s not the plants that create the magic. The magic is everywhere and it is everything, they just serve it, as we do when we heal the woundings and conditioning that hinders the flow of the divine life force through our vessels.
It was because I didn’t full appreciate this that, in the end, it took me seven years to understand the true message of that first Ayahuasca.
The truth surprised me when it landed and I needed to be in a different stage of life to see what had happened clearly.
I was the shaman in the desert. It was me who reached out to heal myself. That was the message. Ayahuasca was showing me that she didn’t need to provide me with entertaining visions, or loan me her power. She was showing me clearly that, within me, I had all the resources I needed to heal myself.
I was seeking outside of myself for a magic that I already had access to. I was just too young and impatient to trust my own process and allow it to unfold in the slow and steady way it needed.
I fully appreciate and am deeply grateful for the assistance I have received from plants, which has been substantial. Yet that simple spiritual truth, that the answers lie within, is indeed a truth, which I understood as a theory for many years, but it took me a great deal of exploration and time to embody it as a real knowing and to accept that there is nothing I can do to force life into places where it is not yet ready to go.
Ayahuasca knew immediately where I was at and she did freely give all that I needed to know in one simple experience. I just didn’t get it but, to be fair, she is much wiser than I am.